Dorado Fish: Tips on How to Catch, Clean & Cook

Also called Mahi-mahi, the Dorado is a wonderful game fish to target. Not only are they a beautiful fish to look at with their long dorsal fin and unique colors …

Also called Mahi-mahi, the Dorado is a wonderful game fish to target. Not only are they a beautiful fish to look at with their long dorsal fin and unique colors of bright yellow and bright blues, but they put up a very energetic and aggressive fight on the line, which can give you a run for your money when you have a big dorado on the line.

Whether you are brand new to dorado fishing or have been chasing these fish for years in Costa Rica and other tropical and subtropical waters, let’s dive in and take a closer look at the best ways to catch dorado.

Dorado Fish Facts

Dorado Fish
Dorado (Mahi-mahi) is a surface-dwelling ray-finned fish found in off-shore temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters worldwide.

Most dorado can be found in various water temperatures, from tropical and subtropical waters to temperate waters. It’s not uncommon to find them in various areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, along with swordfish and sharks.

These fish can grow to more than 3 feet in length and may weigh more than 50 pounds. Their distinct shape and colors make them easily noticeable and highly sought after for sport fishing, especially in Costa Rica.

Where Can You Find Dorado?

Sexually mature Mahi-mahi prefer water that is on the warmer side. They can be found year-round in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans of South America, the Baja California Sur area, and more.

When trying to catch Mahi-mahi offshore in Costa Rica and other warm areas, look for clustered balls of smaller prey items such as smelt, mackerel, squid, and juvenile tuna. Dorado will commonly gather around these other fish for feeding.

How to Catch Dorado: Mahi-mahi Fishing

Dorado Fish 2
Dorado (Mahi-mahi) is fast, flashy, and provides plenty of incredible angling action at the end of a line.

Mahi-mahi is extremely common as a sport fishing target, and as such, will readily take both live or dead bait or artificial lures. As long as you have the right general setup and gear to handle these heavy species, catching a Mahi-mahi may be easier than you think!

Mahi-mahi Fishing Rods, Reels, and Ideal Setups

A large range of fishing gear and equipment will work for Mahi-mahi, but when it comes to your rod, you want to ensure you have a strong enough setup to handle these large and heavy fish.

Look for a fishing rod around 7 to 8 feet in length with 28 to 30-pound tests, such as inshore rods. These will be durable enough to haul in smaller fish and medium-sized Mahi-mahi without breaking or being damaged by the weight and fight these fish put up.

For your fishing reels, you want a spinning reel that will work well with your chosen rod. In general, brands such as Penn do exceptionally well for larger dorado, and their Battle II is one of the best reels for beginners and experienced anglers.

You want your reel to be strong and durable, with a range of sizes to choose from. You also want to be sure the reel can deliver precise control when you need it most to limit the risk of your line snapping under the pressure of these fish.

Choosing the Best Mahi-mahi Lures, Bait, Rigs, and Line

Dorado, in some areas, is very picky in what they will accept, while others are willing to strike at any floating object. The most common way to catch Mahi-mahi is with trolled setups since they display an injured fish look that dorado cannot resist.

Since dorado will do most of their prey hunting near the surface of the water, top hoppers and skippers are good choices too. Most trolled lures, in general, will stay near the surface and are often the first choice anglers will go for when fishing for dorado specifically.

If you are looking for a live bait option, there are very effective Mahi-mahi fishing options you can go with. Sardines and sargassum fish are successful and cost-efficient, and even the largest dorado will strike at these small fish with speed.

While dorado is not shy about striking at small bait, they are also somewhat stubborn fish and have voracious appetites. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a dorado to attempt to strike a bait that is much too large for them.

Mahi Fishing Tactics

Dorado Fish 3
Dorado (Mahi-mahi) are swift and acrobatic game fish with striking colors.

Trolling for Mahi-mahi

Trolling for ocean dorado is just as you would for other species like sailfish and Atlantic marlin. This involves slowly dragging your lure or bait through the water well away from the coast and letting the bait flop around like an injured fish.

When specifically targeting Mahi-mahi, trolling is the number one method for quickly and easily bringing them up toward your boat. Trolling works at mid-level and topwater depths, which is perfect for dorado.

Types of Trolling Lures

Mahi-mahi will easily catch on a few trolled lures, including a Ballyhoo rig. If you have setups commonly used for tuna or billfish, such as sailfin, chances are good you can catch some dorado on the same setup. 

The squid lure is extremely popular with anglers looking to target dorado. These can imitate squid and baitfish, which dorado will willingly eat as a food item.

Sight Fishing for Mahi

Sight fishing for Mahi-mahi gives you a great advantage since you can easily see the exact spot these fish are gathering. Due to their vibrant colors, seeing dorado just below the water’s surface is much easier than you may think.

When you spot a single dorado in the ocean, chances are good there will be others nearby. Most anglers that fish for dorado say it goes from 0 to 60 real fast. This means you can be fishing for an hour without seeing any dorado, then all of a sudden, you will have 4 or 5 big males strike your trolling setup together.

Tips for Catching Dorado

One of the most important things to remember when fishing for dorado, or any fish species, is to prepare your gear before you set foot on the boat. If you use different setups or rigs, have them ready to go before you hit the ocean.

This makes it much easier for you to switch to a more successful rig without fumbling with hooks and potentially dropping something overboard. It’s not uncommon for anglers to change their lures, baits, or hook size in the middle of a fishing trip. Having it, all prepared and set up well in advance makes the change quicker and easier for everyone involved.

Keep in mind that dorado can be large and can move very fast through the water. This means that once caught; it will instantly start fighting. Be ready to react quickly when fishing to ensure you get a good hookset and don’t lose that fish.

Mahi-mahi will fight as much as they possibly can when caught, and being an open water fish, they are extremely strong. Other species will tire out long before a dorado will, so be prepared to fight with this fish for 15 minutes or more.

In order to get these fish on the boat quickly, use aggressive and quick motions for reeling. Some anglers call this the “pump and dump” method. When you “pump” your rod upwards, you are gaining several feet of ground with the fish, and by “dumping” your rod back towards the water, you can quickly reel in those several extra feet of line you just gained.

Are Dorado Good to Eat?

Being a large fish, ocean dorado will have a good amount of meat, so you can prepare a single fish to feed multiple people. Dorado meat also has the unique benefit of being delicious when prepared in almost any way you can think of, from stewing to air frying.

Ocean dorado has a unique flavor which many people say is a mix of sweet and spicy. When prepared with herbs and greens, the acidic flavor of the fish is released in a unique and savory manner which keeps many anglers coming back year after year for more delicious Mahi-mahi.

How to Clean and Cook Mahi-mahi

Dorado is very easy to prepare species. They won’t need to be descaled, saving a lot of cleaning and preparation time.

When cooking your ocean dorado, there are no limits. This is a filet of fish that can be prepared in almost any way possible. Most people will grill or bake their dorado with a variety of spices and seasonings, while others will prepare the meat for stewing or chowder. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Fileting the Dorado Fish

Dorado Fish Fillets
Dorado has a good amount of meat and a unique flavor that is a mix of sweet and spicy.

One thing to remember with Mahi-mahi is, unlike many species of sport fish, these fish have head meat. Instead of cutting to the gills and leaving the head untouched, you will instead want to cut along the upper dorsal line of the head and just above the eyes of the fish you just caught. This will give you a nice filet of head meat that can be baked, fried, or stewed.

Start from the head and run your knife down the dorsal fin to the tail, making a superficial cut all the way down. From here, go back to the head, cut just above the eye, and curve around behind the pectoral fins until you reach the lateral line of the belly.

The mighty dorado also has a raised spine, so when cutting along the dorsal fin, angle your knife tip down towards the table you are cutting on just slightly to ensure you get all the meat under the spine.

Take care not to puncture the guts just below and behind the rib cage.

Dorado Recipes

A favored way to prepare Mahi-mahi is by frying it like you would a beef steak. Since dorado filets are large and thick, they do very well when grilled, baked, or fried and won’t flake apart like other fish.

Prepare your hot pan with butter, spices, and garlic. Place the dorado filet into the pan, meat side down, and fry it for around 3 minutes until golden brown. Flip it over and do the same on the skin side until the edge turns a crispy brown.

Plate the dorado, drizzle the leftover seasoned garlic butter from the pan onto the fish, and serve with rice, salad, or mixed greens.

Dorado FAQs

Dorado Fish 4
The vibrant greens, yellows, and blues found on the Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) make it one of the most recognizable fish in the ocean.

Are Their Size and Bag Limits for Dorado?

While the exact size and bag limits will differ around the world, in most areas, there is a daily bag limit of 10 dorados per person. This includes both male and female fish, but the size limit will be 20 inches in length.

For commercial vessels or sport fishing charters that remain off the coast, the daily catch limit is 60 of the same fish species year-round.

Where Do Dorado Get Their Name From?

Dorado is the Spanish word for “golden” and is a common name for these gold and blue-colored fish. The name Mahi-Mahi is from the Hawaiian language and means “strong” which describes these fish well.

Are They Also Called Dolphin Fish?

Dorado is part of the Coryphaenidae family along with Pompano. Both of these fish are commonly referred to as “dolphin” or “dolphin fish,” though the origin of why they are called this is unknown.

Can You Catch Dorado From Shore?

Brightly colored Mahi-mahi are most commonly caught off the coast and in open tropical waters from boats; however, some areas have pockets of coastal dorado that can be caught from shore.

Final Thoughts on Dorado Fish

Dorados are very beautiful, large, and fast swimmers, making them extremely fun for beginners and commercial fishermen to target when fishing. If you are looking for a unique fish to catch on your next fishing trip and something delicious to take home and eat, the dorado may be exactly what you are looking for.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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